STANFORD UNIVERSITY, Palo Alto, CA (visited on 7/20/12)
Wow. I’m a little awe-struck by this place, and I can see why people flock here and want to apply. It’s nothing short of spectacular. After Berkeley, I was thinking that this would be another one of those Big Name schools that didn’t care about talking to us. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only is this an absolutely gorgeous campus, but they’re very deliberate in their intentions and in their discussions with people. They provided a lovely lunch in the conference room in the visitor’s center, and most of the admissions counselors, along with several students, came to eat with us.
This was a surprise for me: The official name of the university is Leland Stanford Junior University. It is located on the land owned by Stanford, Senior, a major landowner in the 1800s who made money through the gold rush and the railroads. When his only child (Junior) died in his teens, the parents still wanted to be able to provide some way to educate others. There were five tenets that they used to found the university. The tour guide said “we’ll let you guess which one is no longer in place.” The three I remember from the tour was that Stanford was set up to be coeducational, nonsectarian, and tuition-free.
Herbert Hoover was reported “the first student” at Stanford, and he was in the first class. Rumor has it, though, that he camped out in the dorms early to get the best room, and then proclaimed himself the first student since he moved in first.
Although Stanford is non-sectarian, they have a large, beautiful chapel on campus with extensive mosaics on the front that had to be redone several times (mainly because of earthquakes). There are also numbered plaques lining the walkway along the front: they have one for almost every graduating class; they started placing these after the first two classes placed graffiti – their graduating year – all over the sandstone. The students settled for the plaques instead when the admin offered. There are also time capsules on campus, including one placed by Stanford’s wife somewhere on campus.
Last year, Stanford received just over 36,000 applications and accepted about 2,500 for a final freshman class of 1,700. (As a side-note, this is the 2nd largest land-owning college in the world. It’s a little mind-boggling that there is such a huge campus for fewer than 7,000 undergrads, although there’s a significant graduate population as well). Admission isn’t so much about whether the applicants can handle to work. The vast majority of them can handle it. It becomes more about what else the student can bring to the table. Stanford is looking for engagement, impact, and passion. If these pop out of the application, students have a chance. Seventy percent of applicants have a 4.0 GPA or better, and 95% are in the top 10% of their class. Test scores “are less important than you’d think but more important than you’d wish.” They don’t only accept people with the best scores, but a vast majority have scored 700+ on their tests.
Housing is guaranteed all four years in dorms, fraternities/sororities, co-ops, townhouses, themed Living-Learning Communities, and other options. Approximately 95% of undergraduates live in university housing, and there are also several thousand grad students (just over half of the grad population) living on campus, as well. About a quarter of the students are involved in Greek Life.
Freshmen cannot have cars on campus but lots of students have bikes, and the shuttles are extremely efficient. Stanford also offers free CalTrain for staff and reduced for students; the shuttles from the train stop (on the edge of campus) is amazing – they have lines of shuttles waiting at the station during busy times, each going to different parts of campus to get people around quickly. The shuttles also get students off campus to shopping and other areas, and zipcars are accessible on campus, as well.
Engineering is a big deal here (although what isn’t, I suppose). The other undergraduate departments are Humanities and Sciences, Education, and Earth Sciences. A few of the unusal majors are Geophysics, Energy Resources Engineering, Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and Symbolic Systems. The quarter system allows students to study things on a more intense level, and our tour guide really liked it because it allowed for more focus.